How Birds Can Teach Us To Pray
I can approach my time in prayer like I approach my salad.
I know it’s good for me, but it’s just not enjoyable. So I’ll load a bunch of toppings, making sure the protein-to-leaf ratio is on par, and the less healthy I can get the salad to look, the better.
What I do to a salad defeats the purpose of having a salad, and oftentimes what I do to my prayers defeats the purpose of prayer. Why eat a salad when there are better things to eat? Why pray when there’s just better things to do? Which is why prayer is one of the most frustrating parts of my discipleship to Jesus. “Prayer is just like having a conversation,” they said. “It’s not that hard,” they said.
So, imagine the struggle I have when I hear that prayer to God is like having a conversation with a friend. I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends, and they’re great! But never have my conversations with a friend ever looked remotely like trying to have a conversation with the Godhead. Why do my prayers, which I’m told should resemble conversations, seem so much more like monologues that go out into some galaxy far, far away?
Sometimes a dialogue with Siri, Echo, or (shoutout to the millennial AIM users) Smarterchild have been more lively and certainly more responsive than almost all of my prayers to God. At least when I send a text to someone, I am notified that it has been delivered. There’s instant gratification to see those magical three dots pulsating on my screen. And even if the person forgot to hit ‘send’ (that monster!), at least I knew that my message was received and read.
What am I doing wrong? Are my prayers not important enough to get God’s attention? Have you ever prayed and a few seconds later your mind is completely somewhere else? Not only do I feel silly praying, but I’m so distractible. I don’t know about you, but that is certainly one of my biggest frustrations with prayer… so why pray at all?
Luckily, I’ve met someone who has shared his view on prayer and, like the hydrangea bushes outside my front window, new life is budding after enduring a harsh, cold and dry winter. Be assured that your time in prayer can have new life, too!
Okay, so I didn’t really meet this person. Mainly because he’s dead. But I felt like I met him through his book, “The Way of the Heart.” Henri Nouwen was a deep thinker and lover of Jesus, and he had a passion for deep spiritual living. What Ted Lasso is to endearing comedic relief, Nouwen is to enduring spiritual relief.
In his chapter on prayer, he zeroes in on the practice of simple and repetitive prayer.
Instead of a stream of conscious thoughts and words, Nouwen suggests praying a minimum of one sentence, spoken over and over again. He states, “Such a simple, easily repeated prayer can slowly empty out our crowded interior life and create the quiet space where we can dwell with God.”
Who doesn’t want to KonMari the clutter of our distracted interior life? To make room to grasp what it’s like to really be known by the Creator of the universe and experience His presence?
Too many words, Nouwen argues, leads to even more opportunities for our mind to wander back to our to-do list or planning out the day.
So where can we begin?
Nouwen suggests being like a bird. Imagine every simple repeated prayer as a twig, and as you spend time in prayer, those twigs will eventually become a nest.
Nouwen writes, “[we] may slowly build a little nest for ourselves in our heart and stay there for the rest of our busy day.” Even while we are getting kids to school, doing homework, folding laundry, getting ready for practice, answering emails, or attending a meeting (that really should have just been an email), “the prayer can continue in our heart and keep us aware of God’s ever-present guidance.”
So to end, let me suggest a few simple prayers to help you build your daily nest:
“Jesus, help me.”
“Jesus, be with me.”
As you make use of these little twigs, what you’ll find is that throughout your day, you’ve been in consistent prayer. Your heart will sync with your lips as you silently pray. Your mind will be tuned in to your innermost being, and hopefully you will experience a greater awareness of God wherever you go.
So, dear friend, when prayer looks like my salad, build a nest instead.